Lina Prokofiev(part 4)

From the outset Prokofiev confided in Lina, recounting many significant events in his life. Among these, he told her the circumstances of his arrival in America, including some amusing details that do not feature in his Autobiography.

     LP – And then he met there [in Japan] a Russian engineer, who had a contract with an armour company because he was a great specialist on glue; he had invented how to make a special sort of glue. [The engineer, Nikolai Kucheriavy, features in Prokofiev’s Diary and correspondence]
     HS – Then what happened?
     LP – Well they made a contract with him that he should come to Chicago and open a factory and establish his system of making that glue. They had all these bones, you see, and he made glue from bones.
     HS – What did this have to do with Prokofiev?
     LP – He made friends with them. It was this engineer, his wife and a young daughter who...
     HS – And they invited him to Chicago?
     LP – Why don’t you let me...
     HS – I’m leading you, I’m leading you.
     LP – No, you’re not! If I would talk about something else, you should stop me, but you interrupt me.
     HS – I’m just trying to lead you.

     (After a long pause and exasperated sighs, Lina went on.)

     LP – And they made very good friends. He must have been very lonesome with... only Japanese people. And he [Kucheriavy] said: ‘And why are you learning Spanish?’ He [Prokofiev] said: ‘Well, you know, because I want to go to South America.’ ... Think how everything would have been different! And they said: ‘Oh stop, you must learn English and you must come with us to America. There is much more prospects in the United States than in some God forsaken South American...’
     HS – So he went with them?
     LP – He took the same boat. There were no boats to South America, but he wouldn’t have given up his idea because he had learnt Spanish... which he then forgot. And there were no boats for South America for several months.
     HS – That I knew, but I did not know that he went with these people.
     LP – Oh yes, they took the boat and they went together to San Francisco, of course. But then they left for Chicago and he said: ‘Well, I will join you, I will see whether I go to Chicago.’ And then I don’t know whether he stopped in Chicago. That I cannot say because I don’t remember whether he spoke of it. And, you know, when you’re in love you don’t talk about such things!

     While Prokofiev was in America, he attempted to discover his mother’s whereabouts. She had remained in Russia, by then torn by Civil War and totally cut-off from the world. Prokofiev had heard that refugees were leaving Russia by the thousands and hoped his mother would soon be one of them. According to Lina, he made contact with all Russian Consulates across Europe, sending them money:

     “This was the first money he had earned in America, and he was such a good son!”

     Standard practice at that time, explains Lina, was for relatives to send money to the various Russian Consulates across Europe to cover the administrative costs their relatives might encounter, such as to notify their next of kin by telegram or to apply for a visa.

     “You see”, Lina explained to Harvey Sachs who had difficulties following her narrative, “the Communists were advancing from the North and the White army was retreating to the South. And then it got to a culminating point when everybody went out in boats and went through the black sea, through the Dardanelles to Turkey. And there were Islands there, that were specially set aside for the arrival of Russian refugees. And that’s where his mother was finally found with the wife of her nephew, who was in the white army, and their small children. One of the Consulates that he warned was of course the French. And then he received notice that she had arrived in one of these Turkish islands.”

     As soon as he could organise it Prokofiev sailed to France, to be finally reunited with his mother in June 1920. Meanwhile Lina was determined to follow him to France. She arranged “accidentally on purpose” to be sent to Europe, with the pretext that she needed to improve her singing. Until then taught by her mother (both her parents were singers) she pleaded that she needed professional coaching.

     “I had some very good American, wealthy friends, who took a special interest in me. They appreciated me in all respects and, Oh, my mother was so terribly jealous of them! They were going to Italy and they said they would take me abroad and would pay for my trip. And I said: ‘And if I stayed in Italy to study singing’, because I studied with my mother. Now…where did they leave me? Or did I come all the way to Paris with them? And there I met Sergei who introduced me to his mother. I have photocopies of his correspondence with his mother, and every second line he mentions me.
     HS – So you met Prokofiev in Paris?
     LP – Oh, we knew we’d meet there, yes. And he introduced me to his mother. But then, he had to go to America again.   

(Lina’s memoirs will continue in the next issue of Three Oranges.)

Back to Summary